Lung disease associated with gut microbiome alterations
A new Australian study, published in the journal Nature Communications, is the first research to investigate the relationship between chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and the gut microbiome. The preliminary investigation does not suggest a causal association at this early stage but does confirm patients suffering from COPD do present with notable changes to microbial populations in the gut.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third most common cause of death, with a broad variety of factors are known to contribute to the disease, including smoking and air pollution. But only around a quarter of smokers develop COPD, suggesting the need to uncover more biomarkers to identify those most at risk of the disease.
“It’s already known that the lung microbiome is a contributing factor in COPD,” explains senior author on the new study, Phil Hansbro. “We wanted to see if the gut environment was also somehow involved – to determine whether the gut could act as a reliable indicator of COPD or if it was connected in some way to the development of the disease.”
The study analyzed stool samples from 28 COPD patients and 29 healthy controls, and a number of significant differences were detected between the two groups, including differing levels of more than 140 bacterial species.
Several Streptococcus species, for example, were seen in greater abundance in the COPD patients. Increased abundance of this genus have previously been detected in the lung microbiome of COPD patients.
“The ‘gut-lung axis’ describes the common immune system of the lung and gastrointestinal tract,” says Hansbro. “This means that activity in the gut can impact activity in the lung. Our COPD findings suggest that the gut microbiome should now also be considered when looking for new therapeutic targets to help treat lung disease.”
The new study is small and makes no claim the gut microbiome plays a causal role in either the onset or severity of COPD. However, further work is needed to home in on whether these microbiome alterations precede or follow the onset of disease.
“Longitudinal analysis during exacerbation and recovery would be particularly interesting if paired with a similar sampling of the lung environment to evaluate potential seeding from the gut,” the researchers conclude in the published study. “A design incorporating such repeated sampling of the same individual would also help overcome the problem of inter-individual variation.”
Perhaps one of the more immediate outcomes from the study is the suggestion the gut microbiome could serve as a new diagnostic biomarker for COPD. Kate Bowerman, first author on the study, says the research points to a novel way to both diagnose and monitor progression of lung disease.
“Our research indicates that the gut of COPD patients is notably different from healthy individuals,” says Bowerman, from the University of Queensland. “This suggests that stool sampling and analysis could be used to non-invasively diagnose and monitor for COPD.”
The new study was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Source: Centenary Institute